Monday, September 12, 2011

The Irony of Gassing Shelter Animals

What is a shelter?  If you look at the definition, it is a safe haven or refuge; an establishment that gives basic care (food, shelter, medical) to homeless animals.  Animal shelters, no matter their official name, do this … to a point.  Some do it more or better than others, perhaps due to funding and donations (monetary and supplies), staffing and volunteers, and/or following their mission statement.

When people hear “animal shelter” they presume it means what it implies.  They believe it is a safe place for animals until they can be re-homed or reunited with owners.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Of all the animals that enter shelters each year, at least 50% do not make it out alive.  For some ‘shelters’, the number is as high as 90%.

Shelters that kill animals, whatever the reason, do so by one of three methods – heartstick, lethal injection or by gassing.  Lethal injection is the more humane method as it is quick, although not without pain.  Heartstick is exactly what the name implies - the needle of a poison-filled syringe is inserted directly into the heart.  It is not painless and it is not humane.  Gassing is extremly painful.  It burns the delicate and sensitive mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and throat.  It slowly chokes and suffocates the animals, taking as long as 40 minutes, perhaps more.

During World War II, Nazi Germany killed 4 million Jews in an effort to exterminate the “race”.  While exact numbers are not known, anywhere from one-third to one-half (perhaps more) of these deaths were in the gas chambers.  Gender and age did not matter.  The civilized world as a whole abhorred this horrible event.

From 1922 to 1992, the gas chamber was a preferred method of execution of our country’s worst criminals.  The use of gas chambers as a means of execution was banned as being too painful, causing extreme suffering, and inhumane.

The gas is visible to the condemned, and he/she is advised to take several deep breaths to speed unconsciousness in order to prevent unnecessary suffering. Accordingly, execution by gas chamber is especially unpleasant for the witnesses to the execution due to the physical responses exhibited by the condemned during the process of dying. These responses can be violent, and can include convulsions and excessive drooling.  The longest time of suffering recorded during an execution was 11 minutes.

So why do we, as a nation, allow the use of gas chambers to kill animals?  If it was too inhumane for murderers, rapists, etc, why is it humane enough for cats and dogs?  The animals are neither advised to breathe deeply to speed unconsciousness, nor are given any sort of sedative to ease their suffering.  They cry in terror and pain.  They desperately try to escape.  They futilely gasp for breath as the gas fills their lungs.  They suffer for well over 11 minutes.

While I abhor the thought and practice of killing shelter animals, I find the use of gas chambers especially repugnant.  As a nation, we have failed these animals.  Let us at least let them die humanely and without fear and pain.

Video: The Kill Box

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